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Tampa pair gets view from back of the pack

Larry Baisden, John Annis move their way up in a Marcos Mantis.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

DAYTONA BEACH -- John Annis and Larry Baisden knew they had some work to do when the 40th annual 24 Hours at Daytona started Saturday afternoon.

After all, besides the brilliant neon-orange nose piece on their No. 03 Marcos Mantis, the Tampa drivers saw a field full of cars ahead of them when they looked out of their open cockpit GT class car.

After failing to qualify Thursday and Friday, Annis, Baisden and co-drivers Toto Lassally and Marton Shuster were forced to use a provisional to get into the race. That meant a 73rd starting position in a field of 74.

But that didn't mattered to them. After all, Daytona is famous for racing and that's exactly what the pair was there to do.

"We're in a $100,000 car racing against $300,000 Porsches," Annis said. "The only way we were going to win was if we shot them all. We're just here to get some good experience and have a good time."

The Marcos got as high as 47th at the end of the third hour but, moments after Annis said it was running "wonderful," there was a problem with the differential. The team changed that during the fourth hour and returned only to find itself back in the pack again.

Experience is something Annis and Baisden already have in road racing. Each races full time on the SCCA circuit and Annis is making his 10th appearance in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Baisden is a Daytona rookie but enters fresh off a 24-hour race win at Moroso Speedway in West Palm Beach last month.

"It's a lot of fun to race here," he said. "You just have to get used to the relative speed of the cars out here."

Annis was planning on taking this year off -- "I'm 56 and getting too old," he said.

Then Lassally called and invited him to drive the Marcos. Annis agreed and showed up at the track without even knowing which car was his.

"First time I've ever driven this?," Annis said. "This is the first time I've ever seen it."

As expected in a race featuring 74 cars, traffic was a problem for everyone. There were numerous incidents early which saw cars dive off course to avoid a spinning or late-braking competitor.

One spectacular moment saw the No. 51 Saleen dive into a pile of dirt after missing the chicane, showering dirt and gravel into the air like a firework exploding. Because of episodes like that, the chicane, or "bus stop" as the drivers call it, was reduced to one lane.

The other problem seemed to be the loss of power steering fluid, a malady which plagued favorites in the No. 16 Dyson Racing machine and the pole-sitting No. 27 Judd Dallara.

Both overcame those problems and the Judd, featuring Didier Theys, Max Papis, Mauro Baldi and Fredy Leinhard, was the overall leader after the eighth hour.

Crystal River resident Terry Borcheller was part of the Nissan Lola team which led the SRP II class and Paul Gentilozzi, Brian Simo, Scott Pruett and Michael Lauer led GTS in their Jaguar.

The No. 57 Porsche GT3 of Hugh Plumb, Tony Burgess, Philip Collin and David Shep was first in GT and the No. 09 Corvette team seemed intent on defending its manufacturer's title, building a multilap lead in the AGT class with drivers Craig Conway, Doug Goad, Michael Ciasulli and Andy Pilgrim.

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